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T&TEC workers protest over slow negotiations
The Industrial Relations Act (IRA) does not allow an essential service like the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission (T&TEC) to be shut down through industrial action, general manager Kelvin Ramsook said yesterday. He spoke following warnings from the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) that the country’s electricity supply cannot be guaranteed if T&TEC workers keep up industrial action.
As workers staged a picket demonstration outside T&TEC’s offices at Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain, yesterday, Ramsook told reporters: “We are not happy with what is happening this morning. We have our customers to service and this is an essential service. Under the Act, under Section 67, there are clear guidelines that prevent this kind of action. The procedures do not allow for a shutdown in an essential service,” Ramsook said.
The workers staged protest action over the slow pace of negotiations for a new collective agreement and lack of proper health, safety and security procedures at T&TEC. Responding to those claims, Jacqueline Cheesman, assistant general manager, said: “We take HSSE very seriously and over last three years we have ramped up what we are doing because we had fatalities at the end of 2011 to 2012. “I am surprised that they would raise that as an issue and hold us to threats by making these statements.”
Earlier, at a briefing before the protest, Peter Burke, second vice president of the OWTU, told reporters electricity supply cannot be guaranteed in the middle of industrial unrest. “At this point in time we are not in a position to say how this demonstration will affect the electricity supply. I think what we are doing is in the public’s interest by alerting them if T&TEC continues along this path we will end up in a situation where we cannot have a reliable supply of electricity,” Burike said.
He accused T&TEC officials of “starving” workers of the basic equipment to carry out their duties”. “The workers are being starved of resources to do their work. We have provided documentary evidence to the Commission that contractors have stores on their private premises while workers are having serious problems to acquire equipment to do overhead line maintenance. Nothing is being done to address it,” he said.